On November 8, 1965, Specialist/SFC Lawrence Joel of Winston-Salem, a Korean War veteran, began a routine patrol near Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Joel and his unit, the 1st Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry, were ambushed by a Viet Cong battalion that outnumbered them six to one. Wounded twice by machine gun fire, Joel, who was a medic, bandaged his wounds, self-administered a shot of morphine and continued to tend to his unit’s many wounded paratroopers.
The fighting continued for nearly 24 hours and, during that time, Joel put his life at to risk to save the wounded in his company and another unit. After the battle he spent three months in Saigon and Tokyo hospitals before returning to the United States.
In March 1967, Joel received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was the first medical aidman to ever receive the award, the first living African American to receive the award since the Spanish American War, the first enlisted man to receive the award from President Johnson and the first soldier from Winston-Salem to be so honored.
A career soldier, Lawrence Joel retired from the service in 1973 and died in 1984. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.